Combating Staten Island’s Drug Epidemic

It is no secret that Staten Island has currently been taken over by drugs. The heroin and prescription pill epidemic that is now plaguing our community is one in which law enforcement and the court are fervently fighting to overpower—this battle, however, has proven to be one of the most troublesome yet.

Heroin in the 1980’s was recorded at being about 8 or 9 percent pure. A decade into the 2000’s, that percentage spiked to 40 percent pure. As per the last test conducted in 2015, heroin on our home territory is a remarkable 50 percent pure. What does this mean? It is more lethal than ever before. According to a West Brighton resident’s interview with the Staten Island Advance, twenty years ago you needed more than an entire teaspoon full of heroin to get your fix. Nowadays, however, with the severely higher potency of the drug, half a tablespoon could do the same damage.

From 2002-2013 heroin related deaths nearly quadrupled, and from 2011-2013 alone, deaths by heroin overdoses doubled. In 2013 Staten Island lost 32 residents related to heroin, and this number is increasing significantly in 2015. Although in the past Staten Island’s North Shore was recorded to have highest numbers of users, the South Shore is now wearing the grim crown, with Tottenville seeing a record high number of users. Although there is no way to accurately gage the precise reason that heroin usage has increased tenfold, many speculate that it is due to the borough’s new laws that have made prescription pills much more difficult and expensive to obtain. Just one pill of any prescription pain killers, such as OxyCotin, can sell for $40 or $50. Heroin on the other hand sells for as low as $6 to $8 a bag.

According to the findings from the CDC report, people at the highest risk of heroin abuse or dependence are non-Hispanic white males, ages 18-25, with an annual income of $20,000. Interestingly enough, the majority of these users are either uninsured or are Medicaid recipients. This shift in demographic has yielded a 104 percent change in the historical trend of heroin users. In recent years, it has been found that the percentage of females and people with much higher annual incomes using heroin has spiked as well.

What is Staten Island doing to combat this rapidly growing issue? Local, nonprofit organizations, such as Addicts Angels, and Our Lady Star of the Sea are fighting to raise awareness and to provide addicts and their families with the help that they need. Governmentally, we have implemented a drug court that places drug offenders in rehabilitative centers as opposed to keeping them in jail/prison. Under the supervision of Judge Allen Meyer, the Richmond County Drug Court began as a diversionary program with the end goal of providing suitable criminal offenders with substance abuse and mental health treatment, which, if successfully completed, will vacate the accused’s criminal conviction. The Staten Island Treatment Court, also known as SITC, was founded in 1999 and is labeled as a team that takes pride in their commitment “to serve eligible defendants,” as the city continuously fights for “a just resolution,” as  quoted by the project director, Ellen Burns. SITC is a court based program that essentially works with people facing either felony or misdemeanor drug charges that are also addicts/abusers themselves. Most participants spend a minimum of 9-12 months in treatment court and will (most of the time) not get convicted of their charged crimes if they successfully complete all aspects of the program.

Another way that we have begun to change in regards to this drug epidemic began at the 120th precinct in January of this year. Narcan atomizers are one of the most effective ways to save a person when they are overdosing. Previously, you had to inject the medication into a vein, which has proved to be a very difficult thing to do depending on environmental circumstances. The Narcan nasal-spray program is one in which all first responders (including policemen, firefighters, and E.M.T.s) only have to spray the medication through someone’s nostrils for it to take effect. This greatly minimizes an overdose victim’s likelihood of brain damage which begins four to six minutes after the lack of oxygen.

Although there is unfortunately no close end to this proliferating issue, the efforts of law enforcement agencies, the government, and our justice system are working diligently to contain Staten Island’s drug epidemic.